We've run out of dry land, first leg complete.
16 Aug 2007
|Well we have made it to Australia at last .A few months later than planned, but that's okay as we have been in the right place at the right time of late which is good. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner but we have had a bit of a whistle stop tour of Malaysia and Singapore since we last updated the site without much time to stop and find internet cafes. In the last update we left things a little open ended depending on the arrival of bags. Well, to cut a long and not very interesting story short, we got all of our bags at the 11th hour, so 2 days later than planned we hit the road south from Kota Bharu............ next stop Singapore, the Perhentian Islands would have to wait until next time!!
Malaysia and Singapore have many similarities. In both we soon noticed that things were a little more organised with less of the Asian mania about them than further north. For example, there is a distinct lack of animal carts on the roads or water buffalo ploughing in the fields, and other very rustic Asians things that have become so familiar. In fact it has felt very 'western' for much of the time, but then all of a sudden you come round the corner and are hit by the smell of cooking or something for sale in the market that you have no idea if you cook it, peel it or even if you eat it at all and you are instantly reminded that you are still in Asia after all. Rambutans were the best example of this. Until we had been shown what was inside the pretty weird looking red spiky skins we were at a loss as to what they were. Turned out to be yet another different and lovely fruit and we ate tonnes of them!
The ride down to Singapore took us 9 days and travelled through some really pretty countryside. We soon got to realise that the Malay's are fast but courteous drivers, the roads are good and the road side refreshments are first rate. The quality of what we got to eat or drink did vary but the quality of staff was pretty constant; friendly and always smiley. In fact all the folk we have met in this part of the world have been so nice. The best example has to be at the end of a 'way too long a day to still be fun!' we managed to get a lift, bikes and all on the back of a truck, but that's not all.... this truck was not going all the way to our destination, so as we zoomed along and caught up with a line of traffic, our driver started papping his horn and flashing his lights at the pick up in front. Thinking that our guy must be late for tea or something we were wondering what was going on when the pick up pulled off the road followed by us. Our driver jumps out and tells us "it's transfer time". Our man knew the one in front would be going all the way to our destination so 'arranged' the swap. How kind was that?!
As we have discovered on this wee trip of ours two of the things that make us really enjoy a place are the people and the food. As I have said the people have been great and the food has also been excellent. In our last update we mentioned the 3 different cultural groups living here: the Chinese, Malay (mostly Muslims) and Indian. So when you need to eat there is usually a choice of culinary origin depending on what you are in the mood for. The new food for us was the Malay; lots of sweet curries with fish, veg or beef, no pork. Unlike the Chinese which is almost always cooked fresh for you, the Malay curries are pre-made sitting in trays for you to pick from. Sometimes it did look a little unappetising as you had no idea how long it had been sitting, but we took some point and eat gambles and ate some lovely food. We were also never ill so can't be bad. The point and eat method of ordering that has so often been a gamble on this trip has been made so much easier by the quality of English that is spoken in these parts. Because of the cultural mix even the locals use English at times as the common language which was great. (Saved us eating sheep's stomach on our last night in Singapore which we were more than happy to avoid!) We found a good breakfast that became a staple; Roti chanai and tea. Once we remembered to ask for our tea without the obligatory sugar and condensed milk it was just like home. The rotis are like a crepe that comes with a variety of curries, usually sweetish. You can also get egg mixed in with the roti which makes for an extra good start to a day on the bike.
Our route took us the hilly way and crossed the central highlands which run down the spine of the country. This took us up to 1800m to an area called the Cameron Highlands, a very 'different' spot by Asian standards. Due to the altitude it is actually pretty cool which was a huge relief when we finally made it up there after climbing long climb after long climb in about 40 deg with no shade over the road. It was so cool we actually had to wear long trus and a fleece sitting outside for dinner, and there was no need for air conditioning or a fan in the room, a real novelty! Also due to the different climate there was a huge amount of agriculture up there. Masses of very rough and ready unsightly polly tunnels intensively farming the hill tops and terraced valley sides. They seemed to grow lots of veg and apparently tomatoes is a huge cash crop of the area. We stayed in a town called Tanah Rata which had quite a strange feel to it. Like in other areas of the country there are plenty of buildings built when the English and Dutch were in charge so they would not have looked out of place back home let alone out here in Asia. In the morning as we headed out of town on route to the west coast we crossed on to the other side of the hills (at the top of our 60 km downhill) and entered the tea plantations that have been up there since the colonial days. The low wide tea bushes make great scenery.
We had a good stop in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. An interesting city with Islamic, Indian, European and Chinese influenced buildings and culture all mixed in together. You can buy a curry and sari on one street and head off around the corner and there are old Tudor style buildings flanked by property that would not look out of place in Bagdad (not that we have been, yet?) Most of the sights and smells of a more developed city like Kuala Lumpur are more of the 'nice and interesting' than the 'shocking and interesting' that you get further north in Asia. Like the unknown chopped up dead things at the market, or rat in the supermarket type thing, that we have seen else where!
We did a couple of sights whilst in town. First night we paid a visit to the Menara Kuala Lumpur, a huge communications tower. The 3rd tallest in the world, at 276m you get a fantastic view. We chose to go up at night and the city looked great. All lit up and sparkly. There are lots of other sky scraper buildings and ribbons of red and white as the busy roads snake through the city. The most impressive of these other towers was the Petronas towers. Two glass and steel towers that are joined half way up by a bridge. These huge buildings are apparently designed to represent traditional Islamic symbolism that is alive and well in Malaysia, couldn't see it represented in the building ourselves but hey ho. Sadly the one day we had to visit the towers was the only day the public are not allowed to cross the 'sky bridge'. Never mind we got a good look around the base and got some great coffee from one of the many cafe's and food outlets that are in the fancy shopping malls below. Another fascinating result of the cultural mix in the city (and in the whole country) was the mix of places of worship. It was not uncommon to see a Mosque across the street from a Church and 50yds down the road a temple; Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist.
From Kuala Lumpur we made our way down the west coast through the towns of Melaka, Muar and Pontian Kechil before heading for Singapore. Singapore is another interesting city. Very developed, very western and very organised. With it's clean and very efficient under ground train and buses. Big roads with a fair share of BMW's, Mercedes and the odd porche thrown in. Again almost everybody speaks excellent English and are friendly. If you were into your shopping and designer labels Singapore would be like the mountains and wilderness are to us. In the Orchard road area it's wall to wall fancy shopping malls. Almost the whole street is shopping, shopping and more shopping. There is however more to Singapore than that and we enjoyed eating down by the river, having great coffee in one of the thousands of excellent cafes, went on a night safari and visited the Botanic gardens and art galley too. Like KL this is a city of contrast. As you move from one part of town where you have the big swanky world class restaurants to the point and eat curry place where you eat with your fingers, guess where we had our celebratory last meal of this leg?
One thing that has varied massively in the last 10 days has been our accommodation. We were planning on camping one night but found a hotel instead as it would have been pretty hot and unpleasant in the tent. We have stayed in some ok and some very rough and ready guest houses but the two nights that deserve a mention were our first two in Singapore. After a hot and sweaty 80+km ride into the city, the Concierge at the Grand Hyatt was very surprised when we stopped and started to unload our bikes onto his highly polished marble steps. He was even more taken aback, and a little uneasy after asking us the question "where are you staying?" and receiving the answer "here". Yes we stayed in the 41/2 star swanky very grand hotel and it was great fun. The bathroom alone was bigger than some of the rooms we have stayed in let alone the vanity area. As for the size of the bed, if it was not for the huge clean fluffy pillows marking the head of the bed we could have easily slept sideways and my feet would have not done the normal hang ten off the end. This was actually courtesy of a group of friends who were worried when we left the UK that after 6 months of roughing it out on the roads of South East Asia we would be in need of a bit of luxury and a good wash. The Hyatt certainly provided that and more, so a BIG thank you Wisdom 60 (you know who they are). We used the gym, the pool and just had such fun exploring all the nooks and crannies of the palatial place. They even had a complimentary bowl of apples and pears on the sideboard outside the lift........ how posh is that? not to mention the newspaper delivered to your door every morning without even asking. I am not sure how we have managed to close our own curtains of an evening up until now. Maybe they thought we looked too tired to do it ourselves so they kindly did it for us every evening, how nice of them! True to form the people were so nice and we think they probably enjoyed holding the door open for these strange folk to wheel their bikes out of the tennis court size foyer as we said our goodbyes!!
So yes we have thoroughly enjoyed our last 878km of South East Asia and we are now at my sister Dawn's with her hubby Andrew and boys Ben (10) and Harry (6). It's been a long time since we have all been together so it's great to be here. Believe it or not we are finding it a bit chilly out of the sunshine and in the evenings. We have already been out for a nice big bike ride with Andrew, a walk in the hills with Dawn, running on the beach, kicking the kids/ Aussie rules football around the park, riding to and from school and heaps of other family stuff. We have a few trips planned on our own and some more family stuff mixed in before we fly from here to Christchurch on the 9th of Sept and we know the time will fly by.
So until the next one, take care, keep safe and keep in touch.
Loads of love
Nick and Vick